What creating my own courses has taught me about life

Guest contributor Stefany Bolaños works at Junto Studio, a company that helps schools build websites and share what they are doing with the world. They’re about to launch Learnhub, a platform built by independent learners, for independent learners, that empowers students to collaboratively create their own projects. She also writes at the company’s blog, Disruptived.

Classes were about to begin. I checked the school portal to look at the courses I was going to take that semester according to the prescribed academic curriculum. I skimmed the list in a hurry, anxious to find out which subjects I would be learning. Disappointed, I realized that this semester was not going to be much different from the others. While reading the course descriptions of the seven classes I had to take, only three caught my interest.

So I had four classes I didn’t feel particularly excited about, lasting 1.5 hours each, twice a week, for 18 weeks a semester: that’s 216 hours. The math was simple: I was about to spend 216 hours in classes that I didn’t choose, about topics I probably didn’t even like. And that was just one semester, not even including time spent studying and doing homework! The opportunity cost was incredibly high.

But what is the alternative?

Avoiding the tedious process of taking courses you didn't choose has never been easier. And that’s because, fortunately enough, education is not confined to the limits of a physical classroom, a teacher, or a method.

Creating your own education path involves learning project management skills, ownership, true accountability, and being honest with yourself. It also involves being more aware of who you are and what you want to learn. And when you start building your life curriculum piece by piece, it becomes evident that life is a tapestry of limitless opportunities.

When you learn something, it should be either because you need it or because you want it.

The pursuit of our passions results in countless possibilities—but what are the things that you absolutely need to know? Asking questions is a good place to start. Redirecting your efforts toward finding ways to solve problems is a great way of truly learning. Expecting answers from someone else, memorizing, and doing repetitive work without understanding its core purpose are ultimately unuseful efforts. Those who immerse themselves in the adventure of leading their own education understand this very well.

What, then, are the benefits of creating your own courses?

1. Project Management Skills
Whatever career path you choose later in life, one thing is certain: you’ll need to be good at taking a project from start to end. Traditionally, letting students create and manage their own projects has been reserved for the last years of high school. However, there’s no real reason for why it has to be this way. Let’s turn that around! The earlier you start practicing these important skills, the better.

2. Ownership
Give students more responsibility and they will amaze you with what they can do. There’s nothing as empowering as realizing that the failure or success of a project depends on the amount and quality of work you put in.

2. Fun

No one knows what you truly enjoy as well as you do. When you create your own courses, you get to really design them to make them fun for yourself. Fun makes you keep stretching yourself and exploring new possibilities, and it allows you to temper the setbacks that eventually come your way.

4. Accountability

Learning how to keep yourself and others accountable is the skill that takes you from curious observer to someone who can learn a subject deeply and accomplish goals. Can you really stick to a subject when it gets hard? Are you willing to push in order to meet a deadline? Can you keep your word? Who is holding you to a higher standard? These are questions that you learn to ask when you’re forging your own path and that become invaluable in a professional setting.

5. Passion
Passion is discovered with time and by allowing yourself to get lost in solving a problem or pursuing a vision. When you follow your own curiosity, your passion for certain activities or subjects starts to shine through. The perks? The pace at which you learn is accelerated immensely, and you are actively engaged with what you’re doing. Isn’t that every parent’s dream for their children’s education?

How creating your own courses resembles shaping your own life

When students take part in creating their own curriculum, learning becomes a lifelong experience that doesn’t end when the school day is over. In my own experience, taking a project on from the beginning, being responsible for it, keeping myself accountable, and having fun along the way have proven to be replicable habits not only for school, but for life. And when students are empowered and supported in doing this on their own, school becomes an extension of a body of life-learning experiences, rather than an obstacle that leaves curiosity and creativity at the margin.

Today, thanks to technology, creating your own learning paths has become easier because of the unlimited number of courses, mentors, and information out there. And if you choose to jump aboard, you’ll never have to take another boring course ever again!

If you have questions about project-based learning or how to create your own courses, email me at stefany@juntostudio.com or visit our blog, Disruptived: Reimagining Education.

Stefany Bolaños